An eco-friendly housing community that was in the planning stage for about five years is finally being built in Sharps Corner on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.
Ground was broken this week for the project that will include more than 30 single-family homes, a grocery store, powwow grounds, a youth shelter and other features. The housing community, envisioned by the Thunder Valley Development Corp., will be located on the western half of the reservation in southwestern South Dakota and is the result of private, nonprofit and government investments.
"We wanted to make sure that this project wasn't just about building one community on Pine Ridge," Thunder Valley Executive Director Nick Tilsen said. "This is about creating new opportunities for our people. We are creating ladders of opportunity, and really what that means is that those ladders of opportunity are not created by the federal government. They are created by grass-roots people coming together and then the federal government working in partnership with us."
Pine Ridge is home to about 35,000 people — nearly half of whom live below the poverty level — and has a chronic housing shortage. Waiting lists for tribal housing are long and overcrowded houses are commonplace. Some homes house 20 to 25 people as families will take in friends and relatives who don't have a place to live.
Instead of relying on tribal officials to assign low-income homes — which is a common way residents obtain housing — families interested in getting a home at the new community will have to secure a mortgage through one of the lenders that has partnered with Thunder Valley.
But so far, only three families of the 100 who applied for financing were approved through the corporation's home ownership program.
"It is hugely challenging," Tilsen said of the possibilities of securing home financing options. "If you think about that, in the grand scheme of things, we are probably going to need 400 to 500 applicants to fill the homes that we want to fill. But it's part of the pathway. So a lot of it is teaching people financial literacy or helping them understand what home ownership is."
Tilsen's group recently was selected to manage implementation of Pine Ridge as the "Promise Zone," a designation that came from the Obama administration. The federal program's goals include increasing economic activity, improving health and reducing violent crime. The designation gives the impoverished communities an advantage in obtaining grants and other federal assistance.
Regina Garcia Cano can be reached on Twitter at: https://twitter.com/reginagarciakNO .